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A Journey Through Ancient Seas – An Iconic Aegean Cruise Review

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Six ports in five days? Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it? ..almost impossible! However, Celestyal Cruise’s Iconic Aegean itinerary does just that, and in style too! We wanted to share our experience of each port along the way. Read on for our full Iconic Aegean cruise review.

This post may contain sponsored content or affiliate links that help support the blog. All opinions are our own.

To read all about the ship and what we got up to onboard, check out this post – Celeystal Olympia Review.

Our Iconic Aegean Cruise

Our trip took place in November, the very last sailing of the season. We were watching the weather intently and feeling our hearts drop as we saw the temperature doing the same. However, apart from the chilly and rainy Athens, the weather was still rather lovely. Rhodes in particular was really warm. So warm in fact, that we spent an afternoon by the pool. This was the only port where we didn’t spend every second possible on land. The Iconic Aegean cruise itinerary takes passengers to a variety of interesting and historical destinations through the Greek Isles and we would love to share some of the highlights of each spot with you.

Athens

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – We did have the pre-cruise transfer and hotel package but no tours were on offer.

What Did We Do in Athens Instead?

With just one evening in Athens, I decided to satisfy my Instagram cravings and visit the crazy Little Kook Cafe. This spot, with a fair few locations all around Karaiskaki, takes theming to a whole new level. As few years ago they realised that decorating is a good pull for people and it now dresses its rooms and facade up for every season. We have seen Alice in Wonderland, London, Halloween and when we visited, Christmas. It was still early in the season so they were still putting up the lights and only one venue was open but it was amazing. (Amazing or intense?).

Then we popped up to the roof of our hotel for a little savoury snack, a cocktail and a nice view of the Acropolis. Honestly, when we booked the pre-cruise package, we assumed we would be put up somewhere simple, near the port (on the other side of the city and then a little further). It was such a nice surprise to find out we were in a great location, close to the sights of Athens and with the chance to have a small look around. The view was even more exciting!

Mykonos

Mykonos sits in the Cyclades Islands and is traditionally known as, “The Island of the Winds”. These days it is known as, “The Island of the Rich Instagrammers”. Its other nickname is very apt, “The Queen of the Cyclades”, as it is a fun, LGBTQIA+ spot with plenty of nightlife in the season. The capital, Chora or Mykonos Town is where the majority of residents live, and where the boat docks.

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – There was such a short time in port and it was due to get dark that I just wanted to run to my desired locations.

What Did We Do in Mykonos Instead?

The most iconic image of Mykonos has to be Little Venice backed by windmills. Both of these spots are within easy walking distance of where our coach dropped us. We stormed through the cute, white-washed streets in hopes of having this area to ourselves as storm clouds rolled in. The sun set shortly after we arrived and very quickly the photo opportunities went. After it got really dark, we had a wander around the small streets of Little Venice, wondering what to do with ourselves.

Mykonos is one of those destinations that I cannot afford. With the best will in the world, something inside me refuses to pay €26 for a simple bowl of pasta. That is why it was so exciting to see Mykonos on our cruise itinerary. I am all for putting some money into the local economy but also quite glad that I could eat and drink on the ship. We did have a vague idea to go to a bar and grab a drink with a nice view but actually, most of them were shut for the season. The one bar that we found open had “winter pricing” which was even more expensive than that of summer. €22 for a simple glass of wine was more than I could stomach. We decided to head back to the port and our waiting ship, complete with a drinks package.

Kusadasi

Kusadasi is in Turkey. This is the only destination outside of Greece on the Iconic Aegean cruise itinerary. The port used to be a major cargo transit point, sending wares across the sea since the 17th century. Now, it mostly caters to the cruise ships that pour tourists towards Ephesus, a nearby historical city. There are several beaches nearby so this is a nice port to relax in, and a huge waterpark if you like your water vertical. Ephesus is an 18km drive away and is the star attraction. It is a well-preserved ancient Greek city that dates back to the 10th century BC.

Did We Book an Excursion?

Yes – Despite this being our second time to Ephesus, we couldn’t resist seeing it again.

Which Excursion Did We Do?

Ancient Ephesus and the Terrace Houses – As mentioned, this was our second trip to Ephesus. We travelled here by ourselves in 2020 (remember that bit where we could travel before it all went back into lockdown?) However, when we came, we did it by ourselves with just a guidebook for info. It was exciting to have a professional guide provided so we could learn a little more. We also opted for the terrace houses as we hadn’t paid the extra to see them last time, and it was a smaller group size.

The group caught a small bus to the entrance and after a quick bathroom stop, headed inside the site. We were surrounded by huge groups, so our 10 visitor gaggle seemed rather personal. We walked around the side street rather than past the small theatre and felt like we had it to ourselves for a small while. This is hard to achieve in Ephesus as it is a very, very popular sight but at the end of the season, it never felt all that busy.

The terrace houses are not the terrace-style that you imagine coming from the UK, but a collection of six beautifully preserved villas. You can see the gorgeous frescoes and marble on the walls. Mosaics cover the floors and our tour wound through the houses with our passionate tour guide sharing all the secrets. It was so great to see beneath the covering roof.

After emerging into the stream of tourists outside, we hit the main attraction, Celsus Library. If you have seen any photos of Ephesus I can almost guarantee it was of this stunning facade. It was renovated in the 1970s and is due for another one soon. Go quickly or in a few years! We took a few photos here, despite already having some, and then strolled along and passed the amphitheatre. We didn’t feel rushed as we had been before but it would have been a bit of a rush for a first time visit.

Next came the bit of the tour that I was dreading. A visit to a rug workshop was promised. Having traipsed around many a shop disguised as a factory, I knew how uncomfortable it made me. I should have had a more open mind.

We saw two workers making tight knots of fabric, flying through the weaving and it was so impressive. It is always astonishing to find out these things are still created by hand and it takes them months Next, we saw how silk thread is extracted from cocoons. I got to hold one as it unwound in my hand, rating and jiggling. Everyone was offered a drink of tea, coffee, juice or wine and then we took a seat as the show began. A variety of beautiful rugs were unfurled in front of us with a flourish. We enjoyed the experience but as soon as the salesmen split between the groups, we dashed for the exit. There was a small table of nibbles to snack on before we hopped back into the van and sat back for the drive to the ship.

Patmos

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – The island looked small and the sights looked close. There was nothing that was an absolute must-see so we thought we would take it a little easy. We regretted this decision. Given the chance again, we would have joined a tour to the monasteries.

What Did We Do in Patmos Instead?

Patmos is a small island with a small port. Thus, we took our first tender boat ever. We all queued in the Muses Lounge for a number and that indicated our tender boat number. When called, we made our way down to the bottom public deck and down a few more steps onto a small boat. It whizzed across the waves and dropped us in the heart of Skala.

We had a speedy look around town but decided that the monastery didn’t look too far…it was. The worst thing about Google Maps is the lack of contour lines. We didn’t realise that the walk was quite steep in places so took a while longer than expected.

I hadn’t really done my research for Patmos beyond learning, the name of the monastery. The church of the apocalypse sounded so dramatic that I was expecting vaulted ceilings with licks of flame scalding the stone, tortured, monks in a flagellating, fugue state, and semi-regular earthquakes. Turns out the monastery of the apocalypse is a tiny whitewashed visitor centre and a smaller rock chapel. The monastery is dedicated to St John. It was on this spot that he had his visions, marked down in “Book of |Revelations”.

After a quick look around, we determined that we would not make the next monastery up the hill before it shut. It looked like the timing would be tight as it was. Then, at the end of the walk was, what we like to call, “The Google Line of Death”. These tricky little guidance, notations can dictate either a couple of stairs or an extra 10 minutes of hiking up the wrong side of a hill. Instead, we chose to walk down the hill to the west on the hunt for a beach and a sunset beverage. we found a beach but everything that backed it was closed for the winter. However, there was a beach and a friendly kitty with which to enjoy the sunset so we settled in. It was gorgeous.

Once the sun was well and truly gone, we walked the short distance back into town. Feeling a little disappointed at our lack of sunset, we found a bar from the handful open and settled in for a quick drink. I opted for a pink grapefruit spritz, which was divine, whilst Mr Fluskey had a snifter of dessert wine. We had some breadsticks provided too, which we nibbled away at far too quickly. Cravings satisfied, and with the temperature falling a little, we caught the tender back to the Olympia.

Rhodes

Did We Book an Excursion?

Yes – The sight we were most interested in seeing was a fair distance away so we thought it best to join a tour. We didn’t trust local transport out of season for that distance.

Which Excursion Did We Do?

Acropolis of Lindos and the Citadel of the Knights – Leaning over the rail, we saw a fleet of coaches ready and waiting to take daytrippers across Rodes. We boarded ours and were handed a small plastic box attached to a lanyard. these are the famous “whispers”. These allow tour guides to wear a mic and talk to their group without shouting. We all popped our headphones in and tested them, ensuring they were ready to go.

I am a little conflicted by the whispers. I am such a wanderer so it is amazing to listen to essentially a live podcast and have a nice wander around. However, I do feel rude to the guide as I am off doing my own thing. They can’t see my appreciative nods and gentle chuckles though!


Passed the Church of Panagia, the group made its way up the hill. It was a mix of steps and slopes, some with precipitous drops. This almost gave me wobbly knees, worried I was just going to stop paying attention and wander off into oblivion. At the top, we passed a cool carving depicting a Trireme (a war ship) and took one last steep staircase up into the fortress. We had seen the temple from the bus but when we stopped right up at 116m for some more information, it was nowhere to be seen. Our guide suggested everyone go in one direction, avoiding the slippery and steeper way up to the temple. Well, I wanted a clear photo so we stormed up the rocky slope and emerged by the Acropolis of Lindos in just two minutes. It was clearly reconstructed but it was just gorgeous. The striking columns against the seascape were just Greek perfection. It was so cool to imagine it back in the 4th century BC with its giant golden statue of Athena, sadly lost to time.

We took some time to work our way back down through these amazing collonaded steps and stopping to watch a lone butterfly. Realising we were the only people from our coach around, we hurried back down the stairs and slopes to the coach. We were the last and arrived slightly out of puff. Mr Fluskey had a little nap when we took our seats.

The group were driven to Gate d’Amboise on the north of the old town. We made our way slowly through the UNESCO World Heritage site, starting at fortifications and unpeeling the layers of history. It took around half an hour to walk the Street of the Knights. Our guide pointed out the cool old marks of knight’s orders from around Europe. This was the home of The Order of the Knights of St. John and they helped protect the island from pirates and other invading forces for hundreds of years.

After the tour, everyone was given the choice to join the guide back to the ship or to do our thing. We ran straight back up to the top of the route to snap some Instagram photos in places we spotted along the way. Then we spent an hour meandering the empty back streets. We couldn’t help but wonder if this was normal. Was it a quiet day because it was off-season or are 90% of people taken through on tours and then never go for a stroll

Santorini

Did We Book an Excursion?

Yes – Again, not keen to rely on local buses, and with the cable car price included, this seemed like the smarter thing to do.

Which Excursion Did We Do?

Santorini is another quite expensive spot to visit. We spent three days on the islands in March 2022 and I have a blog post all about how to do it on a budget. Returning, we decided that it would be nice to revisit Oia as it was due to be quite a nice sunny day.

Everyone was assigned a guide at random, and ours seemed a little slapdash. Once the group had gathered, he turned around and silently walked away. Somebody realised we all scrambled to follow him. We were all given entry to the cable car up the hill. Our gondola was in fits of giggles as someone in the car below was making rather hilarious noises. I felt bad though as it turned out that the lady howling was actually very freaked out. We made a few jokes with her and she seemed to perk up a little.

Note: The daily planner advises against taking the donkeys up the hill due to safety concerns for the passengers. We strongly insist you don’t as they are treated terribly and they don’t need to drag you up an unshaded pat in the heat.

From the top of the cable car, we were all paraded through Fira, past the main bus station, and down to waiting coaches. The coaches then separated for their different tours. Most head down to the south of the island and a small village. This seemed a bit confusing with Oia in the opposite direction until we realised that usually the boat docks on the southeast coast of the island so you would be driving through it anyway. It was a very cute village. I wonder what the residents think about daytrippers hoofing through every morning without time to stop and spend any money. After a short 15-minute wonder, we all bundled back onto the coach to drive to Santorini’s most famous Instagram spot, Oia.

We opted to separate from the group as there was a long port day in Santorini. We were not ready to return to the ship after just an hour and a half in Oia, so we asked our tour guide if we could hand on to our own return cable car tickets. With these in hand, we wandered off to do our own thing…after playing with kittens for a good, long while.

Yes, we spent an hour or so taking Instagram photos. See a photo dump below:

On our first visit to Oia, we did not make the walk down to Ammoudi Bay to see the seafood restaurants, and I regretted it. This was the time! After revisiting the most popular photo spots, we took the long winding steps down towards the water. The snowy white buildings that topped the cliff soon gave way to crumbling red stone and ended in turquoise water. Unfortunately, the famous seafood restaurants were all shuttered for winter. We had missed the octopi again. It was hard going climbing back up the stairs. The internet will tell you there are 287 stairs but they fail to mention how deep and steep they are. It was like 2 stairs for every 1 advertised.

We decided that we needed a reward so we grabbed a bargain souvlaki before catching the local bus back to Fira for a sunset cocktail at PK Cocktail Bar. With a little more wobble in our step, we caught the cable car back down with no problems and boarded the tender boat back to the waiting ship.

Back to Athens

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – As this was our last day, we were not due back on the ship and so didn’t need a tour (some cruisers start and end in Turkey).

What Did We Do in Athens Instead?

On our return to Athens, we were ready to do some hardcore sightseeing. We had two days to play with and managed to cover an awful lot of ground. Athens is surprisingly compact and you can see most of the major sights on foot in a day. I am planning to write a separate blog post all about our time in Athens so stay tuned!

On our second day, we took a brilliant food tour with Alternative Athens. If you have some time in Athens before the cruise, this is a wonderful way to learn about the city and lots of delicious food you can find along the way.

Final Thoughts for Our Iconic Aegean Cruise Review

The destinations visited on our cruise were a nice selection. There were a couple of islands that were so pricy that we were glad to return to the ship. The blend of quiet gems and popular historical sights kept us guessing and I bet in the summer, the opportunity for beach days helps the variety further. It was incredible to squeeze everything in over just four nights! We still prefer small tours to the large groups that cruises inevitably produce but we did love that we could take the tour and then do our own thing. For the price and the sheer volume of things to see, we think the Iconic Aegean cruise is well worth a go!

Rosie xx


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